Johnson & Johnson - Applied Molecular Transport

Consistent with its tradition of decentralization, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has been one of the most aggressive advocates of partnerships due to its nationwide JLABS initiative that houses promising biotech companies and provides them with the latest scientific gear.

Although J&J has an interest in all of the startups affiliated with JLABS, Applied Molecular Transport (AMT) is one of the only companies in the program that had an explicit partnership with the Big Pharma prior to induction in the Bay Area facility earlier this year.

In December, AMT granted J&J's Janssen an exclusive, worldwide license to its oral candidate for treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).

The looming biosimilar competition from Celltrion to J&J's $8-billion-per-year Remicade in the IBD space surely adds urgency to the alliance; the biosimilar is already available abroad.

Having said that, AMT's candidate is in the preclinical stage. Still, J&J's backing proves it has a shot at becoming the first oral biologic, something quite profitable that's not yet been achieved because antibodies and other biologically derived components degrade when exposed to the digestive system.

AMT Chief Business Officer Tahir Mahmood

The natural barrier preventing foreign material from entering the GI tract is a problem specific to the treatment of IBD, but AMT Chief Business Officer Tahir Mahmood says his company has overcome the challenge by creating microbe-derived proteins that are able to shuttle proteins across the intestinal epithelia.

"We are working with nature, not against it," he said in a previous interview with FierceDrugDelivery, although he declined to name the bacteria being mimicked.

The deal with J&J comes amid other activity from the pharma bigwig in the IBD space. Around the time of the AMT collaboration, J&J licensed Vedanta Biosciences' pharmaceutical candidate for IBD and canceled another partnership in the same therapeutic area. Vedanta's approach mirrors that of AMT, for its candidate is an oral formulation of live Clostridium bacteria, according to BioCentury.

AMT is the least well known company on this list, and its candidate is in the early stages. But then again, many drug delivery partnerships include little-known, niche players, and all precommercial deals are speculative in nature.

-- Varun Saxena (email | Twitter)

For more:
J&J hosts oral biologics startup at its new incubator to help it find Remicade's replacement
J&J picks the inaugural class for its Bay Area biotech incubator

Johnson & Johnson - Applied Molecular Transport